Elections 2014: Look who’s happy now

2014-05-11 15:00

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President Jacob Zuma and the ANC this week received a large mandate to govern the country for another five years.

But the party suffered body blows that will have its strategists seriously worried about its prospects in the 2016 local government elections and the 2019 national poll.

The DA increased its support to more than 22%, but fell short of its 30% target. Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) won 6% of the vote and secured official opposition status in two provinces, but fell short of its target of becoming the second biggest party in most legislatures.

Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement (UDM) slightly upped its voter base but had little impact on the national stage, with its support base still largely consigned to the Eastern Cape. The Inkatha Freedom Party survived decimation but suffered huge losses in KwaZulu-Natal.

The National Freedom Party secured its first parliamentary seats but, like the UDM, remains a mere regional party. The Pan Africanist Congress and the Azanian People’s Organisation are virtually dead.

So who should be happy now?

The reactions of the parties as they watched the changing results board at the Independent Electoral Commission’s centre in Pretoria this week told the story. The ANC’s reaction was one of relief rather than joy. The party was always going to win, but it knew this was going to be a tough victory. It had to deal with several Jacob Zuma scandals; numerous uprisings in township communities; a comatose ANC Youth League; disarray in its ranks; and disunity in its key ally Cosatu. At some point, the party’s own research had it coming in at less than 55%.

A big push at the end edged it to more than 60%, significantly below the almost two-thirds it got in the 2009 elections. Its dramatic decline in most of the metros told the story of an ANC losing touch with the urban middle and working classes.

The DA’s migration to more than 20%, the breaching of the 4 million vote mark and its big inroads into black communities – more than 700?000 of its votes came from those constituencies – was the good story party leader Helen Zille would want us to hear. The other good story was the inching towards 60% dominance in the Western Cape and almost succeeding – together with other parties – in dragging the ANC below 50% in Gauteng.

These elections also exposed Mamphela Ramphele’s political naiveté. Ramphele will now have to occupy one of two seats Agang SA will get in Parliament, with under five minutes speaking time in National Assembly debates. She and her colleague will also have to spread themselves over about 40 parliamentary committees.

Sadness was written all over the faces of the Pan Africanist Congress members, which scraped in with a single seat. The Azanian People’s Organisation lost its only seat in Parliament and risks becoming a museum relic unless it reinvents itself.

With the DA replacing the Inkatha Freedom Party as the official opposition in KwaZulu-Natal, Mangosuthu Buthelezi is likely to leave behind a shell when he finally retires.

The happiest faces on the results floor were those of the EFF leaders. Started eight months ago, the brash new kid on the block dented the ANC in the metros. The party’s radical policy positions, attention-grabbing tactics and extremist rhetoric won the hearts and minds of 1.1?million voters – no mean feat.

But even more delirious was the unknown African Independent Congress. By brilliantly creating confusion through aligning its name and colours to the ANC, the party catapulted itself from 10 municipal seats in the Matatiele municipality to three National Assembly positions.

So what did Elections 2014 teach us? Firstly, that breaking the ANC’s umbilical ties to the South African electorate is going to take a lot more than sniping at the party’s shortcomings. Secondly, that the march to a non-racial identity is far away. Thirdly, that the 2016 local government elections will be the most important since democratic South Africa’s inaugural 1994 poll.

It will be in those elections that the ANC could lose control of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay among others. This is a prospect that will see the occupants of Luthuli House and Mahlambandlop’fu pay their municipal rates to opposition party-controlled councils.

That is when politics will experience a seismic shake-up.

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